Date story was published: Sunday, November 18, 1984
However tainted or brief Florida's long-awaited football championship reign may be, the Gators can be secure in the knowledge it was achieved the old- fashioned way.
It was earned.
Kentucky saw to that yesterday, extending probation-bound Florida deep into the fourth quarter before a 25-17 victory - and the school's first Southeastern Conference football championship - was safe.
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Of course, the title may slip from the Gators' grasp on Tuesday. That's when the SEC's executive committee will meet in Birmingham and decide whether the league should strip Florida of the crown because of the school's admission of 59 NCAA rules violations.
Yesterday's outcome also had a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't quality.
UK never led, but the underdog Wildcats stayed close throughout. Only a controversial procedure penalty, which erased a touchdown pass in the final 90 seconds, prevented Kentucky from being within a two-point conversion of tying the fifth-ranked Gators.
"The kids showed me they'll lay it on the line," UK coach Jerry Claiborne said. "The effort was certainly there. I couldn't be prouder of a group of kids."
Florida's Galen Hall, the interim coach who was officially named the Gators' new head coach yesterday, was also pleased.
"This team has shown it is a great one all season," Hall said. "This game did nothing to change our opinion about that."
The loss dropped Kentucky's overall record to 7-3 and its SEC mark to 2-3. Thanks to Louisiana State's 16-14 loss at Mississippi State yesterday, Florida's 5-0-1 record is the conference's best. The Gators are 8-1-1 overall.
UK's defense staged a courageous stand inches from the goal line in the third quarter to stay in the game. The Cat defenders forced Florida to settle for a SEC record-tying six field goals by Bobby Raymond, in addition to one touchdown.
After the sixth field goal, a 43-yarder that pushed Florida ahead 25-17 with 3:14 to play, UK mounted its final charge. The Wildcats drove 61 yards, reaching the Gator 10-yard line, when the Fates (not to mention the line judge) finally favored Florida.
On a first-and-goal at the 10, UK quarterback Bill Ransdell rolled left, paused and hit roommate Joe Phillips in the end zone for an apparent touchdown.
Hardly noticed was a penalty flag at the line of scrimmage. Line judge Ronnie Baynes ruled that UK was guilty of illegal procedure because another UK receiver, Eric Pitts, had been positioned too far behind the scrimmage line when the play began.
The touchdown was brought back. On the next play, a rushed Ransdell was intercepted by Florida's Adrian White.
"He (Pitts) has to be way off to have it called at that point of the game," Claiborne said. "It wasn't any kind of different formation. It was the same play we had scored on before."
The play - known as a "flood swap" - called for Ransdell to roll out of the pocket to avoid the heavy and constant Gator pass rush. Downfield, Phillips and Pitts tried to lose their defenders by crisscrossing.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, UK had gotten an 8-yard Ransdell-to-Phillips touchdown on the same play, which cut Florida's lead to 22-17.
If illegal procedure had not been called and the touchdown had counted, the Wildcats would have run the "flood swap" to the right side on their two-point conversion attempt at the end, assistant coach Jerry Eisaman said.
"We were more or less forced to go to it (the 'flood swap')," Eisaman said. "They were coming so hard at us."
What several Wildcats wondered was why the formation was legal on one touchdown and not on the second?
"I lined up the same place I lined up the other time," Pitts said. "I knew there was a penalty, but I was surprised it was on me. I'm looking forward to looking at the film because I didn't think it was a penalty."
Kentucky, as much as a 13 1/2-point underdog on the local betting line, was still in a position to tie Florida near the end because of its bend-but- don't-break defense. The Cats yielded both yardage and points in small chunks, never surrendering a breakaway play. Except for a 9-yard touchdown pass, the Gators could score only with the field goal.
"No one's been able to keep us out of the end zone all year like they did," Raymond said. But the Florida field-goal kicker made up for it. Raymond tied an SEC record he already shared by booting three-pointers from 30, 38, 27, 30, 36 and 43 yards. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior had kicked six field goals last season against Florida State. Kentucky already had the dubious distinction of figuring in the SEC field-goal record. Auburn's Al Del Greco kicked six against the Cats in 1982.
Florida's 12-3 halftime lead was due to field goals. Although each field goal inched the Gators further ahead, the kicks also seemed to pump up the Cats.
"Kentucky was so sky high that when we didn't get it in the end zone that kept them in the ball game," Florida safety Roger Sibbald said.
Offensively, UK wasted no time revealing its hand. Against the powerful Gators, Kentucky dipped early and deep into its bag of tricks. An onside kick on the opening kickoff was attempted. So was a pass off a reverse, a pass from punt formation and a "boom-a-roo-ski" type play.
"We couldn't line up and beat their people man to man," Claiborne said. "In every category, they were bigger, stronger, faster. But I don't think they outplayed us."
UK came close but did not recover the onside kick that sailed just beyond the onrushing Wildcats.
The "boom-a-roo-ski" play - actually termed a "Wildcat Special" - freed George Adams on a 25-yard dash on UK's first play from scrimmage. The ball was snapped directly to Adams while Ransdell tied his shoes. The run made up a large part of the 60 yards Adams gained, leaving the UK senior 25 yards short of becoming only the third Wildcat to gain 1,000 or more yards in a season.
Late in the third quarter, Phillips took a handoff on a reverse and threw a 31-yard strike to Adams. "I waited four years to get a chance to throw the ball," said Phillips, who was a quarterback at Franklin-Simpson High. "It came at my last game at Commonwealth."
However, UK's gambling backfired once. The Cats rolled snake eyes when Ransdell retreated from his own 1-yard line into the end zone and threw an interception.
The play came after the UK defense had stacked up Florida twice inside the 1 to prevent a 12-10 deficit from being extended.
Set up at the UK 15-yard line, the Gators reaped their only touchdown. Walk-on quarterback Kerwin Bell found Frankie Neal on a 9-yard touchdown pass to give Florida a 19-10 lead.
Raymond's fifth field goal increased the margin to 22-10 before UK pulled off one last trick play. Punter Paul Calhoun, who had twice this season made big gains by running out of punt formation, kept a comeback drive alive by passing 17 yards to Cornell Burbage for a first down.
Three plays later, Phillips made a one-hand grab for a 9-yard touchdown on a "flood swap" right, cutting Florida's lead to 22-17.
Raymond's sixth field goal increased the lead to eight.
The procedure call preserved it.